Millions of people have the potential risk of developing a deadly type of cancer primarily caused by exposure to asbestos materials. One of the most difficult problems in this situation is that there is such a lengthy time between that exposure and development of symptoms. By the time symptoms are discovered, it may be too late to eradicate the cancerous cells. Treatments are available and aggressive methods can be effective for some high risk patients.

The effects of asbestos materials on the human body have just recently come to light, after heavy use of these products occurred in the mid-20th Century. Asbestos is a group of heat and fire resistant minerals that were incorporated into millions of products in common use all over the world. It was used heavily in building materials, flooring, ceiling tiles, brakes, clutches and in military equipment. The workers who installed, handled, mined or use these products were all susceptible to inhaling or ingesting the minute particles of asbestos fibers. Once inside the body, these fibers invaded mesothelial tissues and began to cause irritation, inflammation and develop into cancerous growths.

Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Diagnosis of malignant Mesothelioma often is first sought when symptoms develop and are noticed by the person affected with this disease. Unfortunately for the afflicted person, the long time between appearance of symptoms and exposure to the hazardous materials tends to decrease survival rates. In some cases, it is 30 to 50 years before symptoms appear. Diagnosis begins at this point of concern, with treatment to follow.

An aggressive and deadly form of cancer, Mesothelioma affects the tissues that surround various organs, such as the lungs, abdomen, heart and testicles. This thin layer of tissue is called the mesothelium; hence the name of this cancer is Mesothelioma. Diagnostic care is initiated when symptoms are detected. Several types of tests are used when diagnosing this disease.

Three primary types of malignant Mesothelioma usually occur in the following areas of tissue and organs:

  • Pleural – affects the lining of the lungs, also called the pleura
  • Peritoneal – appears in the lining of the abdomen, also called the peritoneum
  • Pericardial – occurs in the tissue lining the heart, also called the pericardium

Anyone who believes they are at high risk of Mesothelioma or persons who know they may have had exposure to asbestos materials in previous years should advise their doctors of this and consult with them about the best possible treatments if they are diagnosed with malignant Mesothelioma. This type of cancer is so rare that consultation with experts in the treatment of Mesothelioma is warranted.

Other persons who are at risk for this disease include those who lived with or had contact with people who handled or used asbestos products. Those people could transfer the asbestos fibers home on clothing or hair, and then if the fibers are airborne, others may inhale or ingest those fibers.

Getting a true diagnosis of this disease may include the following diagnostic tests:

  • Imaging Scans – MRI, CT scan, PET scan and X-ray testing to reveal inside information.
  • Blood Tests – Examination of the blood can reveal biomarkers.
  • Biopsies – Microscopic examination of tissue samples taken from suspect areas.

Once the Mesothelioma is diagnosed, a treatment plan will be designed to try to stop the cancer from spreading and doing more harm. The best outcome results from removal of all cancerous cells, tissue or organs that are affected by this disease. This is a difficult task in view of the lengthy time the disease has to infect the various tissues without intervention because the symptoms were not detected.

Mesothelioma Symptoms

Symptoms of different types of Mesothelioma are similar, with most cases exhibiting pain and swelling or lumps in the region of affected organs. Any diagnosis normally starts with consideration of symptom reports and the examination of areas of pain or swelling. Symptoms appear near the organ that is affected, but by the time symptoms are evident, the cancer cells may have already started to migrate to other organs.

Typical symptoms of some common malignant Mesothelioma vary according to the area of body affected. They include:

  • Pleural Mesothelioma – chest pain under the rib cage, shortness of breath, painful coughing, lumps of tissue under the skin in the chest area, unexplained weight loss.
  • Peritoneal Mesothelioma – pain, swelling, or lumps in tissue of the abdominal area, unexplained weight loss.
  • Pericardial Mesothelioma – chest pains, breathing difficulty.
  • Tunica Vaginalis Mesothelioma – swelling or mass on a testicle.

If the Pleural Mesothelioma is left untreated, it may spread. In the chest area, this may cause additional complications from the added pressure it puts structures in that area of the body. In addition to accumulation of fluids that may compress the nearby lung, other complications include chest pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and pain from pressure on nerves or the spinal cord.

Treatment Options Based on Diagnosis

There are several treatment options for malignant Mesothelioma. The choices depend on various factors, including the general health and age of the patient, and the type of symptoms and diagnosis that has been determined.

The best prospects for survive are when the cancerous tissue can be completely removed with surgery. This prevents spreading of cancer cells to other organ tissues. This is sometimes a possibility, but when it is not, the medical team would most likely use additional treatment options. Chemotherapy, radiation and internal scans or X-rays are typical secondary choices when surgery is not appropriate. If the malignant Mesothelioma cannot be eliminated, ongoing treatments may help extend the life of the patient.

Diagnosis & Survival

Once a diagnosis is made, treatment ensues to eliminate or curtail the spread of cancerous tissues and cells. Survival rates are based on the outcome of patients several years earlier, so bear in mind that there may be newer treatments today that can bring better results for newly diagnosed patients. Overall, the estimated survival rate for malignant Mesothelioma is poor.

A general 5-year survival rate for Mesothelioma disease has been assessed at between 5% and 10%. Patients who were diagnosed at younger age may survive longer, as might persons receiving the newest treatments. Health, age, and length of time from exposure to asbestos materials also affect survival prospects.

Ratings for patients who had pleural mesothelioma and who were treated with surgery between 1995 and 2009 established median survival times, the length of time for half of the people in that subject group to die. In a recent study based on data from four stages of the disease, median survival rates ranged from 12 months to 21 months. Half the people in the study lived longer than the cited times, while the other half died before those times.

Getting an early diagnosis is extremely important for treating malignant Mesothelioma at every stage. If you have any concerns that you might have been exposed to asbestos material, seek immediate medical attention.